It’s definitely MORE fun in the Philippines!

Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. has been quoted as saying, ”What differentiates the Philippines from every other place in the world… is the Filipino. It’s his special gift for transforming what is already a beautiful place into an unforgettable special place.”

“You take two identical islands, put FILIPINOS in one, and it’s going to be more fun in there where they are!”

High five to that.

Well, here are my initial takes to the new DOT tourism slogan which has triggered an avalanche of memes in the internet…

Communing with nature at Hagimit Falls, Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS), Davao del Norte

Taking care of Lola at the airport, Tacloban City, Leyte

Fishing at the rock formations, Biri Islands, Northern Samar

Power napping at San Pedro Island, Hinunangan, Southern Leyte

Tacloban Port Area, Tacloban City, Leyte

Tacloban City, Leyte

Kalanggaman Island, Palompon, Leyte

Birdwatching at Samar Island Natural Park (SINP), Paranas, Samar

Zip Southern Leyte – the longest (1km) zipline ride over the tallest bridge in the country today, Agas-Agas Bridge in Sogod, Southern Leyte

Stargazing at Kalanggaman Island, Palompon, Leyte

Calle Mena Crisologo in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur – dubbed as the Heritage Lane

Tubing at Ulot Rapids Torpedo Boat Adventure, Ulot River, Paranas, Samar

Bitukang Manok, Atimonan Natural Forest Park, Atimonan, Quezon

The music scene at 6500, Tacloban City

Calayucay, Sto. Domingo, Albay

 

 

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We went on a birding sortie recently at the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) in Paranas, Samar – site of the country’s few remaining primary and secondary forests today.

It was my 3rd time to be there in recent months in what always turns out to be a most enjoyable nature-trip sojourn.

The first time we went there was to experience for ourselves the Ulot River Rapids Torpedo Boat Adventure (fun!) The second time was to sample Samar’s enormous avian wealth, together with experienced birders (such as the Dutch Ambassador – an avid birder).

I have to confess I am a complete newbie in this department. Birding or bird photography is a pastime which only a few can indulge in. It’s because it entails getting expensive long camera lenses and other equipment; having the needed patience and the luxury of time to travel, the physical stamina to endure hiking/trekking into the wilderness, and the willingness to update one’s stock knowledge and learn more about the avian world.

Hence, please bear with me; my Canon 70-200mm (even with a 1.4X extender) can barely reach for a medium shot of a bird perched on a tree 20 meters away. I need to really creep slowly and get real close to them to be able to get fairly decent shots of these fascinating flying wonders.

The ultimate satisfaction one gets in bird photography is when you’re able to get a perfect, close-up shot of a rare or hard-to-find bird.  The ensuing natural high one gets is beyond words. Definitely more than just WOW!

Here are some of the birds we saw at SINP in the heartland of Samar, last February 24 & 25, 2011.

1.) An Everett’s White-eye (Zosterops everetti), one of several comprising a merry barkada of tiny birds barely 3 inches in size. They fly and eat in groups quickly descending on berry-bearing trees boisterously and then just as quickly fly away.

Source: Wikipedia

2.) The Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops superciliosus/philippinus)

This is a bird which breeds in sub-tropical open country, such as farmland, parks or ricefields. Like other bee-eaters it predominantly eats insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets.

They look out for suitable prey from a tree branch or high wire (about 7m and above) then swoop down onto it and snap up their victims. To get rid of the sting, the insect is vigorously whacked against the perch or simply squeezed to get rid of the venom.

Source: Wikipedia & Sungei Buloh

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It’s not everyday that one gets to meet and be friends on a first-name basis with a genuine VIP from another country.

A real, genuine one.

And it’s certainly a rare one when you get to travel with His Excellency and a small group of friends for 6 consecutive days (yes, sir six – count ‘em!) – enjoying a full load of fun and banter the whole stretch, having meals, drinks and cigarettes together, and enjoying  a not-so-common recreational activity under heavy rain and scorching sun on unholy hours in some of the most remote areas of the country!

How many times in a man’s lifetime can one experience something like that?

Unless, of course, you were born to royalty. Or your job entailed socializing with the high and almighty.

And so when I was invited by a cousin, Nestor Dolina to join a small group of bird watchers for a birding tour he was organizing – a small group which included a  VIP (a fact which was mentioned as an aside before the trip) – it would have been crazy to turn down such an invite.

His Excellency, Ambassador Robert Brinks, the Ambassador from Netherlands, however, had to emphasize time and again that, no, he was traveling not on official business, not as a diplomat representing his country; he was here as a private individual.

A private citizen.

Here to enjoy one recreational activity, which became apparent as the days wore one as high in the list of his personal pastimes he truly enjoys doing most – bird watching.

Private citizen Robert Brinks’ last assignment was just a stint in Baghdad (no mean feat!), where he confessed he felt more like a virtual prisoner amidst the constant bombings left and right.

And coming to the Philippines, he must have felt what being “free as a bird” truly meant!

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